When a young girl visits her great-grandfather for the first time, her imagination swirls with everything she sees in his antique shop. He asks her to pick out her favorite item and he will tell her a story about it. She chooses a cigar box filled with match boxes. As it turns out, this is her great-grandfather’s diary, assembled from items, each stored in a match box, that remind him of a certain part of his life … created when he could neither read nor write. One match box contains an olive pit, representing his childhood in Italy. Sunflower seed shells in another match box count the 19 days of rough ocean travel to America.
Mr. Fleischman shares on the back flap that he borrowed the idea, with permission, from a friend who recorded his trip to Italy in match boxes … and it only took him 15 years to figure out how to make a book out of that idea.
Bagram Ibatoulline has painted in acrylic gouache, both present-day paintings in luminous, warmth-infused colors and olden-days photos that are so realistic in their sepia tones that you expect the people depicted there to talk to you.
I am drawn to this book because it connects generations to history, encourages sharing family history as I’m afraid too few people still do. This is a perfect gift for grandparents. You could give it to grandparents or, as grandparents, you could give it to your grandchildren and then let them ask you about the items depicted in the antique shop: mantle clocks with moving hands, an oil lamp, a phonograph, marbles … many things that have been surpassed by newer technologies, but a way to start a conversation.
The story is beautifully told, heartwarming in all of the right ways, with rich and intelligent language. Even if there are no grandparents on your gift list, buy it for yourself. We all need our connections to the past, the people who brought us to our mark on the timeline of life.